'20/Oct/2017'

Sandhan Valley, popularly known as the Valley of Suspense or Shadows is a beautiful water carved valley located on the western edge of Bhandardara. Accessible from the quaint village of Samrad, this boulder driven patch offers a unique trekking experience served with a dash of adventure and awe . . . shaken but not stirred!

I love the outdoors and have a great respect towards nature and its magnificence. I was going through a phase where I was hounded by a disinteresting desk job on one hand and a want of time on the other. I wanted to pack my bags and head out for a short break and what better companions than the rock steady mountains and their idyllic life? However, I had been out of practice for a long time. The recesses of my brain had started churning and roiling about the idea of undertaking a camp which may be strenuous until I decided to ignore it all and make a random decision.

The next step was deciding which trekking group to go with. Small Steps Adventures has always been my first and only choice as they are very professional in terms of organizing and leading treks and the team leaders are quite friendly and helpful. Once registered, I awaited the day of my departure.

I boarded a 23:04 Kasara local from Dadar Railway Station and alighted at Kasara around 1:20 am. I had been lucky enough to bump into two fellow trekkers in the train compartment (It is so easy to spot your own kind, thanks to the rucksacks and trekking shoes!).  For those undertaking the Sandhan Valley trek from Pune, Indrayani Express is the best bet. They can get off at Kalyan and board the Kasara local. 

We met our team leaders Yogi and Prashant at Kasara Railway Station from where we were ushered into private vehicles which dropped us at the base village of Samrad by 3:30 am. All of us were given some time to rest and freshen up and this was indeed a very good time to introduce ourselves to each other. It was 6 am by the time we were served a hot and fresh breakfast with tea.  This is just the beginning I told myself and smiled inwardly. I had never eaten breakfast so early in the morning!

We refilled our water bottles, put on our shoes, hauled our knapsacks and got ready for the trek to Sandhan Valley after an initial round of instructions from our trek leaders.  The sun had not risen yet and the cold breeze nuzzled our necks and whispered encouragingly in our ears as we walked towards the formidable ravine. As we reached the mouth of the canyon, we were greeted by a rocky passage that seemed never ending! This is how the next 2.5 km is going to look like said our trek leaders. Seriously?! Is it going to be this simple? asked a trekker. Both the trek leaders looked at each other and simply grinned in response. . .

Once between the two rocky walls, the place seemed to close in around us with chunks of jagged stone jutting out asymmetrically. The floor too was full of uneven rocks and boulders which cautioned us to be wary of our footing. It required a near perfect co-ordination between our senses to not bruise our arms with the rocks on the side while maintaining a firm grip while walking on the mini boulders.  The width of the passage too was uneven making us twist and turn. I felt as if I had been transported to an Indiana Jones movie where the rocky walls would start moving in any time and I had to find a way out before they did! Phew!

 

Sandhan Valley is a photographer’s delight because once inside, all you would want to do is click pictures! The same place would appear different if clicked from another angle. This and the presence of other trekkers make the crossing of Sandhan a time-consuming affair. Once we moved a little ahead, we could hear scraping noises above us. A good look made us realize that there were monkeys in the valley. Our trek leaders advised us to walk in the middle and not near the walls as the movement of monkeys cause small rocks on the walls to dislodge and fall on people’s heads if they are too close to the walls.

There were two small pools which were needed to be crossed in the route. The first one was shallow and the second one was a bit deeper with slime-covered stones at the bottom and hence required extra care while crossing.  Eventually, there were two patches from where it was impossible to continue on foot. We were required to rappel using special equipment which again had been arranged by our trek leaders.  It was a challenging experience for me as I had never undertaken rappelling before.

With the task of rappelling having been accomplished, our stomachs growled for some food. It was time for lunch which had been arranged from a neighboring village and had been brought to our group by two villagers. It consisted of a simple but delicious meal. Never had lunch tasted so divine! We devoured it pleasantly with a unique satisfaction which I had rarely experienced.

We resumed our trek shortly after lunch and proceeded at a slow pace clicking pictures and enjoying the view. The path seemed to be getting a little easier to tread and very soon we reached what looked like a dry river bed. It was a flat land and we had managed to reach there approximately by 5 pm.

Once there, we changed into a fresh pair of clothes as the ones we were wearing were soaked and helped in setting up our tents.  We had the evening to ourselves and spent it interacting with the group members and the trek leaders. We even managed to play a game of Kho-Kho despite being tired to our bones.  We sipped some chai and snacks in the evening and settled ourselves to watch the sky change its colors as the sun dipped behind the mountains. It was surprising to note how quickly the temperature dropped along with the sunset. We were soon snuggling up in our shawls and jackets.

Since we had an early start to the day, our trek leaders had made arrangements for an early dinner to enable us to rest well for the following day. Dinner was again a simple affair. While we were having dinner, our trek leaders had been gracious enough to set up a bonfire. With our bellies full, we lazed around the bonfire, absorbing its warmth, gazing at the orange specks of light that flew away from it towards the sky dazzling with its white stars. It was truly an ethereal experience and I never wanted the moment to end.

As it always is in the case of overnight camps, the spooky stories starting coming out! People recounted stories of haunted forts and palaces while some ventured on to share their personal experiences with ghosts! It was interesting to hear them in a wild set-up and amusing to see people getting scared or concerned.  We had just begun with antakshari when our trek leaders advised us to go to bed. We did as we were told (It is never wise to argue with somebody who knows more than you!).

We got a wakeup call at 6:30 am the next morning. We freshened up and geared up for breakfast. After breakfast, we started walking towards Dehne village by following the river bed and managed to reach there in the next two and a half hours.  It was time for a simple but sumptuous lunch.  We traveled to Asangaon Railway station post lunch where we bid adieu to each other as we set back home.

I was reminded of a quote that I had read somewhere a long time ago. It said, ‘Sometimes, the journey teaches you a lot about your destination.’ I now realized the full extent of its meaning. The destination is your inner self and the journey is one of a thousand miles taken one step at a time. . .

 

Experience shared by Varsha Mewada

(facebook.com/varsha.mewada)